1. Where did it all begin? See selected photographs from this period in our photo gallery.
The Kulin nation resided beside the banks of the Yarra and its many billabongs. These provided a rich and reliable food source as well as excellent meeting places. The junction of the Merri creek and the Yarra at Dight’s Falls was such a place, with a large corroboree being documented in mid-1860’s.
Evidence of the local Wurundjeri presence is their canoe tree seen on the river-bank in photos of Rudder Grange. The first paddlers on this stretch of the Yarra.
The river was said to have been clear with the bottom visible. This all changed with the clearing of land in Alphington, Heidelberg, Ivanhoe and beyond, and the establishment of dairy farming, market gardens and orchards. Later still housing developments arrived, European willows were planted, river snags cleared and billabongs removed. One major billabong remains, Bolin-Bolin, at Banksia Street., Heidelberg.
All of these changes to the whole length of the river have led to the Yarra that we know today.
2. 1900-1920’s What was the scene in 1919?
There was increasing interest in water activities on the Yarra during these early years of the 20th century. Riverside boathouses and teahouses appeared both above and below Dight’s Falls. One could even board a ferry in the city, travel to Dight’s Falls, walk over a hill and join another ferry at Burn’s boathouse (Studley Park Boathouse) and then travel upstream for a picnic or party, Rudder Grange Boathouse Café being a popular endpoint.
By the 1900’s, the Yarra was a busy canoeing environment with more boat sheds were appearing, Bill Macaulay’s Boat House at the river end of Molesworth St., Kew. Further upstream was Chipperfield’s floating Boathouse on the bend of Willsmere Rd, East Kew, and L Stephen’s Boat Shed at the now Wilson Reserve Ivanhoe. Besides hiring, building boats and canoes they all had canoe storage”. At Fairfield Park, in 1908 John St Clare set up the “Fairfield Park Boat House” (later known as “Willow Dell”.
Arthur Howard (“A Brief History of Canoeing in Victoria”) indicates that, in these early days “Canoeing appealed to the wealthy young elite, especially the Peterborough, as its varnished hull stood out against the painted canvas ones. At this stage the price was against the working class owning a canoe. Even with the money to buy a canoe, a young working class man they were not encouraged to do by the so called elite class”. However,
Canoeing was now starting to become popular, as young men found that paddling a canoe was much less tiring than rowing a pleasure boat, you could converse with a young lady while paddling where it was almost impossible when rowing, as conversation jerked out between strokes of the oars.
These many boathouses both hired boats as well as offering some storage facilities for the groups of people visiting regularly. Thus, the idea of forming Canoe Clubs arrived. The first being the Victorian Canoe Club sited at Burn’s Boathouse. The First World War changed a lot of that and Post-war there were a number of endeavours to provide recreation activities for the returned servicemen, the Boomerang Canoe Club being one such entity.
3. How did the Fairfield Canoe Club evolve?
Arthur Howard writes: “It seems that the war eased the class barriers as those that didn’t go to the war and the returned men got on very well together in this club (Boomerang Canoe Club), canoeing up river on picnics and to the “Ryver Brink Cafe” for meals and the popular Saturday Jazz nights, also canoe racing and novelty events that Edmund Cooke the Proprietor at Rudder Grange organized from time to time to entertain his cafe patrons. These Boomerang Canoe Club men liked to have a drink and started to bring it down to Rudder Grange, it was one of Cooke’s policies that no alcoholic drinks be on the premises, he asked the club members to mend their ways or take their canoes and leave. Fourteen decided to leave, packed their gear in to their canoes and paddled downstream to the Fairfield Park Boat House, known then as “Willow Dell”, where canoe storage was available. Within weeks of leaving Rudder Grange they established a new club, the Fairfield Canoe Club on March 1919 this being their headquarters for several years.”
At “Willow Dell”, the FCC headquarters in Fairfield Park, they started interclub canoe racing and had their first canoe carnival, they also travelled to other clubs venues for club racing. Canoeing was primarily a summer sport. It was from the annual carnivals that the FCC organized and when the public came to watch they sometimes gained members. After a very successful carnival in February 1921, some of the members had a little too much to drink and the proprietor of the Fairfield Boathouse closed the club room but not the canoe storage to members of the FCC. It seems history repeated itself, this time with their new proprietor. For the next few months the club held their business meetings and other social gatherings at the Rifle Club Hall in Wingrove St. Fairfield”
The Fairfield Canoe Club lives-on into the 21st Century!
Newsletters from the period